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UN: APAC is world's most digitally divided region

Urges massive investment in land and under-sea fibre

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The Asia Pacific region is the world's most digitally divided, with huge investment in land and sea-based fibre optic networks and improved public-private partnerships necessary to close the gap between the haves and have-nots, the UN has said.

The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for APAC (ESCAP) is holding a three day meeting of policymakers and industry experts in Bangkok this week, designed to thrash out new approaches to the region’s widening ICT gaps.

ESCAP executive secretary Noeleen Heyzer told attendees that the region is the most technologically divided in the world.

Just under a quarter of the population has internet access, compared to the likes of North America (78.4 per cent), Europe (68 per cent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (32.7 per cent).

In addition, only six per cent of APAC-dwellers in developing countries have access to high speed broadband services.

At one end of the scale are countries like Korea – recently proclaimed by the UN as the world’s most advanced ICT economy – and Japan, while at the other, is landlocked Laos.

Here it would cost an individual 111 per cent of their monthly Gross National Income (GNI) to buy a month’s subscription for an entry-level broadband package, while in Korea the equivalent would cost just 1.56 per cent of GNI per capita, the UN said.

Heyzer claimed that internet-based technology advances can help governments run their countries in a more open and efficient manner – through G-clouds and use of Big Data – drive economic growth and spur innovation.

However, the digital divide cuts several ways – across age, education, gender and region – she said.

“Technological innovations continue to astound, but the full potential of ICT will only be realised if these transformative technologies are also accompanied by shared values, shared commitment, and shared solidarity for inclusive and sustainable development, for our people and for our planet,” she said in an opening speech.

“For this to happen, we need strong commitments by governments, private sector, and civil society alike to a common set of values based on principles of sustainability, equal access, social justice.” ESCAP's three-pronged plan to close the divide includes: public-private partnerships to provide cutting edge ICTs; improved capacity building; and massive investment in fibre-optic infrastructure.

ESCAP will be rolling out a regional map of fibre optic routes to assist in the latter, and “more precisely identify communication choke-points, missing links and investment opportunities”, Heyzer said. ®

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